Boston — Dzhokhar Tsarnaev | The Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty on Friday for convicted Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev.
The 6-3 vote comes after a federal appeals court tossed the sentence in July 2020, ruling that a trial judge improperly excluded evidence that may have shown Dzhokhar was influenced by his late older brother, Tamerlan.
The First US Circuit Court of Appeals in Boston also cited potential juror bias over exposure to news coverage of the pressure cooker bombing that killed three people and wounded more than 260 others near the race’s finish line in 2013 while vacating Tsarnaev’s death sentence nearly two years ago.
“Dzhokhar Tsarnaev committed heinous crimes,” Justice Clarence Thomas wrote for the majority, comprising the court’s six conservative members. “The Sixth Amendment nonetheless guaranteed him a fair trial before an impartial jury. He received one.”
Justice Stephen Breyer, who dissented along with Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan, said he believed the appellate court “acted lawfully” while noting “particular judicial care” is necessary surrounding death penalty cases.
“This Court now reverses the Court of Appeals,” Breyer wrote. “In my view, the Court of Appeals acted lawfully in holding that the District Court should have allowed Dzhokhar to introduce this evidence.”
Tsarnaev’s lawyers asserted that the trial judge erred when he blocked a jury from considering evidence that Tsarnaev’s older brother had been implicated in a triple murder years before the 2013 marathon attack. The lawyers said the evidence was central to their effort to mitigate his sentence.
Tsarnaev had argued during the sentencing phase of his trial that he shouldn’t be put to death because Tamerlan “took the leading role” in the bombing and brought his brother into his plan.
“Dzhokhar argued that Tamerlan was a highly violent man, that Tamerlan radicalized him, and that Dzhokhar participated in the bombings because of Tamerlan’s violent influence and leadership,” Breyer wrote.
To back up his claims, Dzhokhar, 28, tried to introduce evidence that Tamerlan previously killed three people in an unrelated triple murder in Waltham, Massachusetts, in 2011.
Breyer also called on his counterparts to take reconsider capital punishment altogether.
“I have written elsewhere about the problems inherent in a system that allows for the imposition of the death penalty,” Breyer wrote in his dissent. “This case provides just one more example of some of those problems.”
Tsarnaev, 28, was convicted of dozens of crimes in the attack that killed three people and injured more than 260. The case divided Bostonians, revived a debate over executions and tested President Joe Biden’s opposition to capital punishment.
Tsarnaev received a death sentence in 2015. The Tsarnaev brothers also shot and killed Massachusetts Institute of Technology Police Officer Sean Collier. Tamerlan Tsarnaev was killed in a shootout with police in a Boston suburb after the bombing.
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